Social Security Makes Huge Update Not Seen in Nearly 50 Years

By: Julia Mehalko | Published: Jun 24, 2024

The Social Security Administration is making a huge update to an outdated database that hasn’t been changed in nearly 50 years.

For years, many Americans have struggled to get disability benefits when their job became obsolete, as the agency incorrectly claimed that they could still do this job — even though it was no longer a position found in the U.S. workforce. Now, the agency has finally made some changes that could impact many Americans.

Obsolete Jobs

For decades, workers in the United States have applied to receive disability benefits through the Social Security Administration when their jobs vanished from the workforce in the country.

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Americans who were microfilm processors, banking pin adjusters, watch repairers, barrel assemblers, or log scalers have found themselves without a job in the past few decades, as these occupations have become obsolete.


Applying for Benefits

According to the Social Security Administration, Americans whose jobs have been removed from the workforce — whether it’s through technology or because the jobs have moved overseas — can apply for disability benefits.

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However, many workers who have done exactly this have struggled to actually obtain these benefits, as the agency has been using an outdated system that hasn’t been updated in 47 years.

A Lack of an Update

When Americans were applying for benefits because of their now obsolete jobs, agency officials were telling them they could still find work in their given occupations — even though these jobs were nowhere to be found in the U.S. economy.

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This common situation occurred because officials were using an old list, known as the Dictionary of Occupational Titles, that hadn’t been updated since 1977.

Pushing for Change

This old list has been criticized by advocates who have challenged the Social Security Administration’s lack of an update, as well as by the Government Accountability Office.

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The Government Accountability Office has highlighted the Dictionary of Occupational Titles as a high-risk program that needs to be changed.

A Huge Update

Finally, it appears this change is happening. The Social Security Administration has revealed that it is finally eliminating many of these obsolete jobs from its database, thereby paving the way for many workers who cannot find jobs to apply for benefits.

An old black and white photo of a woman in a factory working.

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As these jobs will be taken off of this database, officials will no longer be able to deny claimants benefits by using the list that contains obsolete jobs.


Removing Jobs

Therefore, now about 127 occupations will be removed from this old database. Many of these occupations stem from federal court cases after claimants sued the agency when they were denied benefits, even though their jobs no longer existed.

An old black and white photo of machine workers.

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Now that these jobs have successfully been eliminated from the database, these workers will be able to receive benefits if their occupations have become obsolete, and therefore they can no longer find work.


A Failure to Stay up to Date

Commissioner Martin O’Malley has recently opened up about this massive step the agency is taking to help many Americans who cannot find work in their given occupation.

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When discussing the agency’s lack of an update, O’Malley said, “These were notorious examples of our failure to stay up to date.” He added, “Industrial economies change and jobs fade away. We had not removed these.”


Advocates Applaud Change

Many advocates who have long been pushing for this change have applauded the agency finally making this step.

A vintage black and white photo of factory workers.

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Disability attorney Kevin Liebkemann explained, “I could tell you stories about the psychological impact it has on disability claimants when they learn they lost their claim that they waited years on, because somebody said they could do a job that doesn’t exist.”


Other Social Security Projects

This decision to update an old list of occupations comes years after the Social Security Administration hired the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a modern list of jobs found in the U.S. economy.

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This large project has cost about $300 million, which is paid annually in $30 million installments. Though the Bureau has made this data public, the agency has not used it at all since ordering this list to be created in 2012.


Using This New System

Though the agency hired the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create this new, modern system, they haven’t used it yet — and they don’t intend to anytime soon.

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According to O’Malley, the agency will not use this updated system, as they have to study it further. Eventually, they may use it.


Social Security Criticisms

This situation has led to many Congress members criticizing the Social Security Administration, especially as they refuse to use this modern job system. Advocates of this system believe it can help ensure workers with obsolete jobs receive benefits.

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However, O’Malley has explained that agency staff has to be trained, and the system still has to undergo a regulatory process before it can accurately be used.